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How Not To Blaspheme Against Garlic Cloves


A Twitter video of an amazing garlic peeling hack went viral and blew the minds of every home chef in America. The method of stabbing into a bulb of garlic and extracting a perfectly peeled clove requires a sharp paring knife and nerves of steel.

But thanks are due to America’s Test Kitchen, which gave the method a try, saving hundreds of us garlic lovers from self-inflicted stab wounds.

While that peeling paradise is mostly unattainable, the perfect peel gives something of a chef’s air to any home cook. Those of us who use masses of garlic in pretty much everything wield our methods with pride, because garlic is an essential part of food that has actual flavor.

Garlic, green onions, onions, ginger, and herbs are what chefs calls aromatics, and they’re the only rational place to start everything from soups to braises to sauteés. Cuisines that use garlic are the good ones, and any cuisine that doesn’t is probably terrible.

That’s why it’s essential to know how to peel garlic so you get the most flavor from those cute little cloves. America’s Test Kitchen found the stabby peel method to work on some, but not all of the cloves, leading critics to say that the perfect garlic peeling video was for hard-necked garlic.

Soft-neck garlic is the kind found in most American markets. It’s easy to cultivate, harvests quickly, is imminently storable, and, predictably, has a soft stalk. The hard-necked kind is what you’re more likely to find at green markets. It comes on long, tough stalks, can be purple in hue, and packs more flavor than its soft-stalked brethren. This is the kind you can so satisfyingly stab out with a pocket knife, so long as you heed this lesson about severing the connection between root and clove first, and make sure to brace yourself.

It is believed that the Egyptians worshiped garlic, and used it for currency. Garlic has been thought to ward off vampires, protect pregnant women from evil intent, and send bad dates running for the hills. Early 20th-century American gourmands despised garlic, and left it where they believed it belonged, in the ethnic kitchens of the lower classes. This ensured that elitist white folks ate the poorly flavored meals they deserved. In short, garlic has powers.

I think we can safely say that cuisines using masses of garlic are the world’s best ones. They certainly contain my favorite foods. My first serious introductions to garlic came in Korean and Italian food, where I learned quickly and happily about its potent and powerful effects. Although it took time, practice, and patienceto learn to cook any of my top picks, the key for any home cook is in the garlic.

At first, these little white balls with tissue-thin paper flaking off, hanging out in a basket by the onions, don’t look like much. If all you’re doing at home is popping open a jar of Michael’s of Brooklyn Homestyle Gravy, you can probably walk on by. But if you want to make Sunday sauce of your own, this is the place to start. Get a bunch of it. Fill a bag. Then peel them.

There was a time, more recently than I’d like to admit, when I did not know how to peel garlic. I pulled cloves from the bunch and ripped at the dry little skin with my fingernails. The result was something like trying to peel a hardboiled egg without rolling it on a surface first, like a noob at a Passover Seder. Little sharp bits of shell went everywhere, but the clove remained ensconced in peel. This miserable method left me not wanting to use much garlic. This was bad for my taste buds and pride.

I tried other methods of cooking with garlic. My mom keeps jars of minced garlic in olive oil in her fridge, and even though she’s an avowedly terrible cook, I decided to give it a try.

I should have known it would be a disaster. This mealy, tasteless garlic substitute was worse than not having any garlic at all. It gave off the garlicky aroma that my nose so craved, but no flavor. The little diced kernels also bled olive oil and almost crisped up then got instantly soggy. It was a mess for the dish, and hard to scrape off the pan. I wanted the garlic in my food, not on my cookware.

Next I opted for the pre-peeled, and while this was moderately better, it was not ideal. The peel holds in the garlicky freshness. I’ve heard tell of people using frozen pre-peeled garlic, and this definitely falls under the heading of heathenism. The freezer sucks out the flavor, and you may as well not even use garlic at all. There’s also garlic powder, and while it’s good in a pinch, nothing substitutes for the real, freshly peeled thing.

No one would want to buy pre-peeled bananas, and garlic is basically the same thing, except not mushy, and not bananas. Once, in Crete, I tasted lemons plucked directly from a lemon tree, and was shocked to find that they are sweet. Lemonade with fresh-picked lemons needs no sugar. The same holds true for garlic: it has its own spicy sweetness. The closest you can get to when and how it came out of the ground, the more flavor garlic will have.

Despite my Italian American background, I’ll admit to having learned how to peel garlic from the Food Network. When Jamie Oliver took the side of his knife to unpeeled cloves just like Harry Potter mashing the sopophorus bean in “The Half Blood Prince,” my garlic obsession was liberated.

The first step is to cut off the little ends, then press the side of the blade against the clove. The peel is easily removed once the clove has been crushed. Cloves can then be used whole, chopped, diced, or turned into paste. The flavor and use is different for each iteration.

If you want something faster, you can peel cloves of garlic in two seconds flat, with this crazy shake-’em-up method. Garlic can be peeled via microwave, but of course then you’re pre-cooking it, and zapping flavor. You can even buy garlic peelers, but honestly that just seems like a silly device intended to take up time on the Home Shopping Network, or space in a SkyMall catalog.

I put garlic in everything, ideally with diced green onions. No dinner is complete without greens sizzling with garlic and green onions in olive oil. Garlic is best fresh; the fresher, the better. It’s always a joy to find big, long garlic stalks topped with a plump bunch of cloves at the green market.

No matter your preferred peel, the best way to prep it is right before you use it. And remember, if the recipe calls for two cloves, that probably means at least ten.